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By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA (Reuters) - China promised on Saturday to donate 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines as the two countries signed infrastructure deals aimed at boosting post-pandemic recovery efforts, officials said.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte imposed one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns to contain the virus in March last year - bringing one of Asia's fastest-growing economies to a standstill.
"As a friend of the Philippines and your closest neighbour, we will firmly stand with the people of the Philippines until the defeat of this virus," senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said during a meeting with the Philippines' foreign minister.
Wang's talks in Manila wrapped up a week-long visit to four Southeast Asian nations.
Duterte has sought warmer ties with Beijing since taking office in 2016, setting aside a territorial spat in exchange for pledges of aid, loans and grants.
"China plays a very key role in reviving our region's economy," he said on Saturday. "Let us do all we can to revive economic activities between the Philippines and China."
China said it would donate 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Philippines, without saying which vaccines would be offered, the presidential palace said in a statement.
With nearly 499,000 coronavirus cases and almost 9,900 deaths, the Philippines has the region's second-highest number of infections and fatalities after Indonesia, but Manila has trailed neighbouring countries in securing vaccine doses.
Duterte has said he prefers to source COVID-19 vaccines from either China or Russia, and the country is buying 25 million doses of the experimental vaccine developed by Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac Biotech, with the first 50,000 expected to arrive in February.
On Saturday, officials from the two countries signed a deal for a 500 million yuan ($77 million) grant from China to fund infrastructure, livelihood and other projects in the Philippines.
They also signed the commercial contract for a $940 million, 71-kilometre (44-mile) railway scheme north of the capital, Beijing's ambassador to Manila said in a statement.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Clelia Oziel and Helen Popper)